Eminent domain hearing canceled for levee project

Posted on March 1, 2022

Flood Control District is pausing Santa Venetia project to evaluate cost increase

The Marin County Flood Control and Water Conservation District has canceled its March 15 District Board of Supervisors meeting at which the use of eminent domain would have been considered as part of upgrading the levee system along Gallinas Creek.

Newly revised cost estimates for the flood mitigation project are more than twice the prior cost estimate for the levee improvement construction work. Initial assessment points to recent changes in the project design to address levee seepage as well as overall increased construction industry variables, such as labor and material shortages, supply chain issues and general inflation.

As the new estimate exceeds available funding, the District has initiated a “value engineering process.” Value engineering is a best practice approach which is often used when a significant cost increase develops during a project. The process will look at the original project purpose and work through all stages of the project to determine the most cost-effective path forward that still meets the original desired project outcome. New construction estimates will be provided as soon as they are verified through that process.

“I understand how frustrating this is for Santa Venetia residents,” said Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Rosemarie Gaglione. “The department is committed to finding out how we got here and to putting a plan in place to ensure a successful future project.”

Until now, funding for the flood mitigation project was derived from four sources, with the largest including a $3 million Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant. Under the existing FEMA grant, construction was expected to begin this September and be completed by February 2023, which is why the District was planning to proceed with the March 15 eminent domain hearing.

The District will apply for a new round of FEMA grants to help cover the increased project cost. That new round has sufficient resources to allow the District to apply for a higher grant amount. In terms of the FEMA process, the Santa Venetia levee project has a high benefit-to-cost ratio, meaning that the cost of creating the flood protection is low compared to the value of the properties that would be protected. The benefit-to-cost ratio is expected to make the project competitive in the next round of FEMA grant applications. Additionally, DPW is pursuing other potential funding sources for the critical infrastructure improvements.

“The County thanks all of the community members who have worked so hard to get us to this point,” said Damon Connolly, the District 1 Supervisor who represents Santa Venetia residents. “The benefits of this levee project are multi-generational, and I’m committed to holding the County accountable to seeing it through. The residents of Santa Venetia deserve no less.”

Based on the timing for the next round of FEMA grant applications, staff anticipates a reply about possible funding in early 2023.  In the meantime, staff will reevaluate the proposed project, and the District will continue to pursue permanent easements from residents along Gallinas Creek on a voluntary basis. Those easements will help to ensure the District can maintain the existing levee system.

While the District welcomes voluntary agreements with interested property owners for permanent maintenance easements, it reiterates that it has no present intention to condemn or acquire the interests using eminent domain. Should that option be pursued in the future, the District will follow the required procedures to provide offers and notices to those property owners from whom property interests are needed.

For more information about the Santa Venetia Levee Upgrade Project visit SantaVenetiaLevee.org.

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